Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (review)

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A few years back, the dynamic, gritty, exciting martial arts action flick Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior gave us country bumpkin (Tony Jaa) in modern Bangkok, hunting down a relic stolen from his home village and busting it up with mobsters and street punks and all manner of bad guys. Now, Jaa is back, and they’re not kidding about it being “the beginning.” Rewinding to 15th century Thailand, this is the downright Dickensian tale of a royal boy kidnapped by slavers and raised by thieves who grows into a man, Tien (Jaa), who vows revenge on everyone who’s wronged him. While the first flick was thoroughly grounded in the here and now, this one sings with a fantastical flair that recalls everything from The Lord of the Rings to Apocalypto to The Empire Strikes Back (in Luke’s Jedi training), along with its own unique touches: there’s a truly awesome bit with a herd of rampaging elephants and the badass spiritual mojo it takes to dominate such creatures. More impressive than Jaa’s kinetic athleticism as a martial artist, though, is how assured he is behind the camera (he takes over as director, along with screenwriter Panna Rittikrai). The action bits make you feel like you’ve had pure adrenaline pumped into you, but the attention to artistic detail — like the sumptuous costumes, or the cinematography that dreamily captures the lush jungle in golden firelight — is like something you’d expect from a Hollywood epic. Oh, and how does it all tie in to the first film? We’ll have to wait till the third, now in production, to find out… (also available to watch in the U.S. on demand from Amazon, and from cable on-demand systems)

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Mon, Nov 02, 2009 8:40pm

Loved this movie. Glad you did, too. Saw it on VOD before it’s theatrical release, ended up finding a region 1 or all-region DVD of it. Been looking for a great, charismatic martial arts star for a while, Tony Jaa’s the man! I like this film better than the first for one reason precisely because of it’s setting, many years removed from modern times. His staging of the fight scenes thrills me, as I am so tired of close-ups and cameras whooshing to simulate action. As you’ve noted, Jaa is also quite a sumptious filmmaker. I too am looking forward to his next outing.